The Rocky Mountains are a tough climate in which to build a deck. I’ve seen people prepare for the sun and snow only to have monsoon-like flooding rains soak a board to the point of warping as it dried. The Rocky Mountain climate of Colorado provides any deck built here with the challenge of successfully protecting the boards from high altitude solar pummeling, rains, snow, and spring meltwater. Wherever you are in the U.S., UV rays will break down the cellular structure of wooden decks, leading to graying and decay. But in the Rocky Mountains, the higher altitude means more exposure to UV rays, and often, more damage.
While applying a solid stain to your wooden deck can do a lot of good, it is often just not enough to keep a deck in good shape for any length of time. That’s where a change of materials comes in. Long lasting decking materials that are capable of dealing with the climate of our sunny mountains and dry high plains do exist. But first, to understand how to get around the challenges of wood, it’s a good idea to get a better understanding of what they are.
How Wood Breaks Down
All wood eventually decomposes, but there are a couple of things that typically cause the most damage to a deck in particular.
- UV Weathering: When wood is exposed to UV rays, the cellular structure of the wood is broken down, which ultimately causes it to gray, flake off, and breakdown. While the sun is intense all over the south, the higher elevation here means that UV rays are going to be more potent agents of weathering, increasing the higher one goes.
- Moisture: If we add water and snow to the weathering mix, even from sporadic heavy rainfall, the challenge of keeping a deck in good condition increases. When moisture gets into wood, and then dries, the boards have a tendency to become warped, and tiny cracks and splits can easily grow into full blown fissures. With snowy conditions, much of the damage to decks comes from water freezing, melting, and refreezing, a process that allows moisture to knife ever deeper into wood.
The usual method of protecting a wooden deck from sun and rain is to apply the best stain and sealer one can apply and do so every year or every other year. But even a diligent and conscientious maintenance regime doesn’t typically keep all the damage at bay. And if all that maintenance sounds like a bit much, there’s an easier way–not using wood it at all. There are now advanced decking materials that do not easily breakdown from exposure to UV rays and are able to successfully resist water. One of those materials is fully capped composite decking.
Fully Capped Composite Decking
Composite decking isn’t all that new, and early generations of the material deserve the not-so-great reputation they garnered. They would swell, chip, crumble, and mold. But over the past 25 years or so, I’ve seen composite decking go from problematic to highly durable, attractive, and effective. Here’s a little breakdown of the evolution of composite decking:
First Generation: Made of plastic and sawdust flour, the first composite boards that entered the marketplace had some problems. Having no protective coating, they were magnets for moisture, which led to slick surfaces and boards warping like bananas (as well as mold spots that were nearly impossible to get rid of).
Second Generation: Seeing the problems of the first generation, manufacturers first added a protective plastic or resin capping material on the top of the board, which helped greatly, but didn’t keep moisture from entering the bottom and the sides of the board. Later, capping was added on the sides and ultimately on the bottom as well to protect the mixed sawdust and plastic core of the board. This meant that swelling, warping, and impossible-to-remove mold was no longer an issue.
Specially Capped Second Generation Composites: Not all capping is created equal. Many of the caps found on second generation boards have a tendency to peel off or become easily scraped, allowing moisture to enter. The most advanced capping material is now being produced using technology borrowed from the tire industry. Made of a rubbery, enhanced resin, it’s tough and grippy and makes the board extremely moisture and UV resistant. In fact, it’s so resistant to the effects of the sun that the color barely fades. The decking boards don’t require any sealing or staining, meaning that they are essentially maintenance free over what can be a lifetime of at least a couple decades, if not more.
The Cutting Edge–Addition of Bamboo: While a good, tough capping material gives plenty of water resistance to protect the boards from sudden heavy rainfalls, composite decking that is made with bamboo flour delivers even more moisture resistance. This is because of the differences between sawdust and bamboo in the manufacturing process. Sawdust has the tendency to clump together when a board is being “extruded,” which leads to little pockets into which moisture can seep and collect. Bamboo doesn’t do this. Instead, bamboo mixes evenly with the plastic to form a solid and super dense board, capable of resisting moisture and UV rays even without an additional protective capping.
Whether sitting under the glare of the hot sun during long dry spells or allowing the “monsoon” rains to glance off the surface, high quality fully capped composite decking is a great fit for the Rockies. The only decking I know of made with bamboo flour and an extremely tough capping is Infinity Decking, produced by the Fortress Deck company. It makes a beautiful and long lasting deck that may just stay looking nice longer than the house it’s attached to. And if you need other durable and innovative building materials, like railings, fencing, or decorative wood ties, then I highly recommend taking a look through the rest of Fortress’ line of products. You’ll want a beautiful, durable railing system to go with your beautiful, durable deck.